How many times have you experienced a brilliant revelation while in the middle of something else? Ten minutes later, you go to retrieve it, and it’s gone. Or you have a task that you know you must complete, perhaps a phone call at work, but other items keep popping up. The day ends, you pull into your driveway, and realize that you never made that call.
Years ago, George A. Miller wrote an article for The Psychological Review in which he suggested that the number of items a person can keep in their short-term memory is approximately seven, plus or minus two. With everything going on in the world around us, it’s no wonder that we forget so many things.
What’s the solution? Write it down! Productivity expert David Allen* believes that you should avoid having the same thought more than once, unless you enjoy that particular thought. Our minds are prone to remember items that happened recently or which contain emotional content. Given the choice, we would probably prefer more selective criteria, especially considering the space constraints of our short-term memory. By writing notes, you free your mind to do more productive things such as coming up with innovative new ideas or analyzing existing data.
Allen has also observed that as adults, we often experience ideas somewhere other than where they’re to be implemented. Perhaps you’ve been discussing something with a client, and you have an additional thought while standing in line at the grocery. The reverse can also happen, where you remember that you are out of milk while you’re in the middle of a meeting. By writing these thoughts down when you have them, you’ll ensure that they’ll be acted upon when the opportunity arises.
How should you begin this process? Stock up on working pens, pads of paper, and a location to place these notes at work, at home, and when you’re traveling in between the two. The only thing worse than forgetting an idea is writing it down and losing the note, which doubles your anxiety. You’re wondering where the note went, prompting fears that other notes have been lost, and you’re trying to retrieve an idea which you’ve already placed in your mental recycle bin. (This bin is emptied regularly, unlike the one on your PC’s desktop!) You can also take notes on your cell phone if your phone has that capability.
By documenting your ideas, you will achieve a clear mind and be ready to face even larger challenges!